To add color or not: That is the question

Over the weekend, I saw the music video for Grand Ole Party’s new single "Look Out Young Son," and was mesmerized by its haunting black-and-white images of what appears to be an old Western speakeasy full of ghostly white children and vagabonds:

Yesterday I went online to find the video so I could watch it again, and lo and behold, I found another version that turned out to be the director’s cut. This version was in big, bold color, with saturated golds and reds throughout. It also had a new intro, a little girl who skips up to an old-time Kinetoscope and peeks in to watch the show. Well, it just so happens the director, Manny Marquez, is my neighbor, so I immediately got in touch with him to get the full story behind the competing versions. Here is what he had to say:

"’Look Out Young Son’ is basically a blues song. To me, it’s as if Kristin, the singer of Grand Ole Party, was a female Robert Johnson at the Crossroads making that deal with the Devil. The camera we were using — circa 1860’s style, and with a 140-year-old lens — was only capable of creating black-and-white images in its day, and had done that with photographs since the Civil War. By using an HD camera to shoot the image off the camera’s back plate, we were capturing what a photographer would have seen on the plate if Grand Ole Party had walked into the photo studio in 1865. Literally, a 19th-century HD image! Then we went beyond the chemical limitations of that camera, and focused on the optical ones, and that is what resulted in our color version.

"The band decided they wanted the final version to be in black-and-white. They were fans of 1920’s German films, and wanted that kind of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari vibe. What we had done in color is entirely unique photographically, and in black-and-white, it was back where we started, in the 1800’s. I realized I needed to stop focusing on the original idea and make it work for everyone, so this is what we did: We had seen some portraits a former professor had done for a movie that were printed on silver paper, and even though the images were black-and-white, they seemed elevated somehow. We decided to transfer that idea to video. In the end, the band’s official release of the video isn’t black and white to me, it’s black and silver!"

PopWatchers, does it matter to you if there is an artist’s cut and a director’s cut for a video or movie? Do you prefer old black-and-white films over color? Or is good art just good art, and let’s leave it at that?


Comments (9 total) Add your comment
  • Winona

    If a director or whatever wants to add/change/delete color to add to his artistic vision, then that’s fine. (I keep thinking of the special feature on the Rocky Horror Picture Show DVD that enables you to view the film in b/w until the “Time Warp” party sequence, which was an original intention.) But what’s done is done – there was a huge push of colorizing b/w films in the 1980s and thankfully it died down. Don’t colorize old b/w films, people!!!

  • Snarf

    I agree Winnona. Old films (or even new ones) that were filmed in Black & White were meant to be seen that way. Director’s cuts however often show the film as originally intended before studios get worried about things like running time and putting out the most commercially viable product possible (hello The Incredible Hulk)

  • Passepartout

    As an archivist, I totally dig the style of this video. As a chick, I totally dig the fact that they have a female drummer! Awesome.

  • What’s the Beef?

    Don’t get me wrong. As a photographer, I love B/W. But, I don’t understand the purist attitude toward colorizing B/W films. Some people I know talk as if it’s some kind of heinous crime. The way I see it, if the older movie makers had had the option of using color, they may have used it more than not. Sorry, but I’d much rather watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ colorized. Schindler’s List is better in B/W of course, as it was intended, but I won’t knock someone who may prefer to see it color. Maybe people should lighten up a bit. After all, we live our lives in full color. So if the owners of these BW’s want to colorize, what’s the big deal?

  • mel

    I read online where Frank Capra put up $$ to colorize ‘Wonderful Life” and wanted artistic input but the higher-ups basically took over. He then turned against the whole colorization process. But I’m sure he would have made the original movie in color if the finances hadn’t been so tight back then. Black and white was easier and cheaper to make after all.
    Can you imagine all of The Wizard of Oz in B/W? No way. Money well spent.

  • Anonymous

    i got it on good authority that winona ryder actually left that first comment

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